Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Week that Changed My Life

Each year, I approach this week in February with mixed feelings - for it was in the half term week of 2011 that my life was to change in a way I couldn't have predicted.

This blog post I wrote two years ago, gives more details.

The Day My Life Changed Direction

In a nutshell, the end of the school holiday would see my teaching career come to an abrupt end after the sudden closure of the school I was teaching at. On the following Monday, when the new half term began, instead of walking into my classroom and starting the day's English lesson, I would find myself walking my dog along the river bank, wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life.

That day, as Bonnie and I stood watching the swans that had gathered at the edge of the water, I remember how adrift I felt. I was no longer a teacher but it would be another year before I could call myself a writer. 

Of course, on that first day without a job, I had no idea that an exciting new phase of my life was about to begin - that misfortune would turn to opportunity and that it would be the start of a new career. All I knew was that something I'd loved had come to and end. I felt let down by the way the closure of the school had been handled and I had difficulty coming to terms with it. 

If only I'd known, as I looked for answers in that flowing river, that it would all turn out just fine.That, seven years on, I would be writing fiction for some of the best national women's magazines. Not only that but I would go on to write two novels (one of which would win a major competition) and publish three story collections of which I'd be immensely proud.

These are my two stories in The People's Friend Spring Special, which is in the shops as I write.

But, of course, I didn't know any of this at the time. it was something yet to come. 

As with most things, the new path I've taken hasn't always been a smooth one. Just last year, I had a major setback that shook my faith in my writing. I had two choices. I could let it get me down or pick myself up and use it as an opportunity to make something even better happen... just as I did before. I did the latter.

I'm glad I did.

My novel is now with agents and publishers. It might lead to something big... or it might not. Whatever happens, it's another turning point.

And it's exciting.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Ten Things You Learn Once You've Finished Your Novel

1. The writing of the novel is only the beginning.

2. Everything takes a very long time. Not easy, if you are impatient by nature.

3. You will doubt your ability over and over again.

4. You must expect setbacks but find the strength to stay positive.

5. You will start to wonder if the story that's been in your heart and mind for months will ever be read.

6. You will find it hard to settle to anything until you know your novel's fate.

7. You will be eternally grateful for your supportive writing friends.

8. Your email will become both friend and foe.

9. You will compare your novel to everything your read.

10. You will wonder why you ever embarked on this route.


You'll also learn that you're totally unprepared for the enormous sense of achievement you'll feel after you've typed THE END.

Enjoy that feeling... you've earned it!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Inspiration Behind the Story - The Beloved Sea

"You never blog about the inspiration behind your stories anymore," someone said to me recently and, when I looked back on my blog, I realised it was true. I think the reason I haven't is that on the weeks when I've had a story in a magazine, I've had other news to tell or a lovely guest has visited my blog for an interview. 

To rectify this, I'm going to talk today about the inspiration behind my story in this week's People's Friend Special, called The Beloved Sea (Yay, they didn't change the title!). 

The story was the result of a holiday in Cornwall my husband and I had last year. During our week there, we (and Bonnie of course) walked a lot of the South West Coastal Path and one walk took us to the picturesque village of Mousehole - full of windy cobbled streets and granite cottages bustling around a harbour of colourful fishing boats. Despite its loveliness, our walking book told us that there was a sad story linked to Mousehole for, over thirty five years earlier, a tragedy had befallen the village.

It was on Saturday 19th December that disaster struck. The MV Union Star had suffered engine failure and was being swept towards the rocky coastline. A distress call was put out and the Penlee lifeboat, 'Solomon Browne', was launched from the lifeboat station near Mousehole. Sadly, after four people had been rescued from the stricken ship, neither vessels survived the storm and all involved lost their lives.

Wanting to find out more, my husband and I went to visit the disused lifeboat station at Penlee Point which has been left as a memorial to the brave lifeboat crew of the Solomon Browne.

I found the story very moving, especially after finding out that, within a day of the disaster, enough people from the village had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.

As we walked back along the coastal path, watching the waves pound the rocks below, I decided that when I got back from my holiday, I would incorporate what I'd learnt into a story of my own. 

Using the village we'd walked around as my backdrop, I wrote a present day story looking at how a young wife coped with being married to a lifeboatman - one whose family has been touched by the tragedy of 1981. 

It was a story of bravery, family loyalty and, above all, love.

That story was The Beloved Sea.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Playing the Waiting Game

I'm playing the waiting game at the moment... and I've realised I'm not very good at it. As my husband always says, when I want something, I want it straight away.

You see, my second novel is out there. The first three chapters are with a few agents and the complete manuscript is with two more, as well as a couple of publishers (two of whom are also reading my first novel as well). I know I should chill... take up crochet... meditate. Anything to take my mind off the wait - but it's hard.

Every time the phone rings, I jump.

Every time the email pings, I jump.

Every time a Twitter message comes through, I jump.

I'd make a good kangaroo.

You'd think I'd be good at waiting - after all, I've had five years experience in waiting for magazine editors to buy or reject my short stories - but, somehow, the wait to hear about the novels is worse. 

I brought up this topic in a Facebook post last week and author, Emma Darwin, came to my rescue. She'd recently written a blog post on this very subject and thought I might like to read it. It's actually aimed at writers with agents who have sent their manuscripts out to publishers but is equally relevant for those of us waiting to hear from agents. You can read it here.

Is Your novel Out on Submission - Welcome to Hell 

On the good news front (after a bit of waiting) I have, in the last month, sold eight stories - which I'm really chuffed about. The three hundred mark is moving ever closer!

If you're interested in reading one of my stories, The Beloved Sea will be published in The People's Friend Special this week.

Back to the submissions. My favourite piece of advice from Emma is, 'Find companions in misery'. So... are any of you waiting to hear about something too?

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Her Last Lie - Guest Post Amanda Brittany

Today, I'm delighted to welcome Amanda Brittany to my blog. Amanda is a fellow magazine writer and this week her debut novel, Her Last Lie, was published by HQ Digital. What makes this story so wonderful is that all proceeds from the sales will be donated to Cancer Research in memory of her younger sister.

I hope you'll enjoy hearing more about Amanda and her writing in this interview.

You first started your writing life as a women’s magazine writer. How difficult was it to move to something longer?

Hi Wendy. Thank you so much for inviting me to your blog. I think the main difficulty for me, is keeping the faith in a novel for so much longer than you would with a short story.

Women’s magazine fiction is known for being gentle and uplifting. How difficult was it to change genre?

Although I’ve written many gentle, uplifting stories for magazines, and really enjoy writing that kind of story, I have been known to go over to the dark side when writing short stories, and really enjoy writing twisty-turny thrillers for That’s Life! Australia, and Take a Break Fiction Feast. Maybe I was destined to write a psychological thriller. I know plotting short stories in that genre helped me a lot with my novel.

What were you like at school? Would your English teacher be surprised to see that you have become a published author?

If I’m honest, I was a bit of a dreamer at school. My English teacher was actually my favourite teacher, and she always said I had a great imagination, but she would get frustrated that I never applied myself. I think she would be shocked about my book, but I like to think she would be pleased too.

How long did it take you to write your novel?

I wrote the first draft fairly quickly. In six weeks, in fact. But the rewrites and edits took me a lot longer.

I love the cover. How important do you think the cover is to a potential reader?

I’m thrilled with the cover of Her Last Lie –the designer is amazingly talented. I think covers are very important. If they are eye-catching they can really draw the reader in, and also give the reader a good idea of the kind of genre the book is. In fact, I know someone who buys books purely based on the cover – so hopefully I’ve made one sale. J

Tell us something about the main character that will make us want to read more about them.
Six years ago, Isla Johnson survived an attack by a serial killer, and I hope readers will feel for her and the potential trauma she had been through, especially as she is now convinced the killer is out of prison and stalking her. But I also think the reader will feel conflicted by Isla’s present-day behaviour towards her partner the kind and caring Jack.

Are you a pantster of do you plot?

A bit of both, I think. For novels, I have a brief outline of the main plot, and where I want to go, and then I tend to let my characters take me there. I admit, it does mean I occasionally lose my way – characters can be naughty like that – so when I feel myself heading off on a tangent, I stop and reassess my plot and where I’m heading. For short stories, I sometimes have an outline, but often I write a whole story purely based on something I’ve heard someone say.

What have you found to be the most difficult thing about writing a novel?

The hardest thing when writing a novel, in my opinion, is keeping on keeping on, and, as I said earlier, not losing faith in what you are writing. I find the hardest moment is about halfway through, when I suddenly wonder if it’s any good at all. And the other difficulty is the temptation to keep on going over and over the first few chapters until they are perfect, instead of getting the first draft down.

What next for Amanda Brittany?

I love writing short stories, and hope to write more in 2018, but I’m not sure what the future holds for novels. I guess, for now, I’m taking it one step at a time.

Amanda Brittany lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and two dogs. She loves travelling, and visiting Abisko in Sweden inspired her to write 'Her Last Lie'. 

She began writing fiction nine years ago, and has since gained a BA in Literature, a Diploma in Creative Writing, and has had 200 stories and articles published in magazines globally.

When her younger sister became terminally ill, Amanda’s hope was to write a novel where her royalties went to Cancer Research. 'Her Last Lie' is that book, and all of Amanda's royalties for downloads will go to that charity. 'Her Last Lie' is her debut novel.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Writing Targets for 2018

It's that time of year again when teacakes are eaten and writing goals are set.

On Monday, writing chum, Tracy Fells, and I met up in our favourite cafe. We ordered teacakes and coffee and went back over 2017 to see whether or not we'd achieved last year's goals (you can read them here). We also set new targets for the coming year. It's the fifth year we've done this as we've found it's a great way to keep us focused in the months ahead. 

Without further ado.... here are my 2018 writing goals. Hopefully I shall:

  • Continue to submit two stories a month to magazines.

  • Submit something new to the RNA New Writers' Scheme reader for a critique in August.

  • Continue to submit to agents/publishers with a view to having my first two novels published.

As with last years goals, I've tried to make them manageable ones. Also, you never know when life's going to throw you a curve ball and you have to change your plans (I certainly wasn't expecting to lose my agent last year and have to start again along that route). 

My other (non-writing related) news is that I'm taking up a new challenge... I'm learning the violin. Yes, you heard me correctly. The violin. A while ago, I got it into my head that I'd love to learn to play this instrument. I have no idea why and neither did anyone else! 

Imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas present from my husband and found this...

His present to himself was earplugs and now that I've tried it out I can see why! I'm determined to learn though and my final goal is to be able to play some carols on it by next Christmas. Think I will succeed?

And that's the end of my goals for this year. Do you set yearly writing targets?

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Did I Achieve my 2017 Writing Goals?

It's time to say goodbye to the old writing year and hello to a new one.

Last week I took a detailed look at my writing year which you can read here but, today, it's time to turn my sights to the specific writing goals I set in 2017. In January, best writing chum, Tracy Fells, and I met up in our favourite tea shop for teacakes and target setting. You can read the full post here.

So how did I do?

Well, before I wrote this post, I looked back at my roundup of 2016 and saw that I'd hoped 2016 would be 'the year of the novel'. It wasn't to be and neither has it this year but I've made some big steps towards my goal. Also, my short story sales have moved closer to 300 mark, so overall I'm pretty pleased. Let's look at whether I achieved my specific targets though.

Goal: Complete at least 50,000 words of my new novel by the end of August, for critique by the RNA New Writers' Scheme reader.

Achieved? Yes! I actually finished the 87,000 word novel and, much to my delight, had an excellent critique from the RNA. It also won the Flash500 Novel Opening and Synopsis Competition just before Christmas. It was chosen out of hundreds of novels and this is what the judge, Steph Patterson (senior editor at Crooked Cat books) had to say about it.

'First place goes to The One I Left Behind, which hooked me with a gripping introduction, and a thrilling plot to boot. Early on, the reader is introduced to the main character, and something intriguing about her, which has an impact on her life. The One I Left Behind has the makings of a page-turner. Many congratulations!'

Congratulations also to writing chum, Tracy, whose two novels both did very well in the same competition..

I am now in the process of submitting my novel to agents and have been approached by the commissioning editors of two major publishers who want to read it.

Goal: Write the outline and first chapters to send to my agent before the end of February.

Achieved: Yes... but, sadly (and through no fault of my own) I lost my agent in the summer so it was back to square one.

Goal: Write and submit at least two short stories every month.

Achieved? Yes. I've managed to carry on writing the magazine stories alongside the novel although my output has been less. There have been changes in the magazine world, with both Take a Break Fiction Feast and Woman's Weekly changing their fiction staff and only allowing submissions from a list of selected writers. I am grateful to be one of them.

Goal: Attend the RNA conference in July.

Achieved? Yes... and you can read about it here.

... and that's it for another year. I'll be back next week after Tracy and I have had our goal setting teacake session. All that's left is for me to wish you all a very Happy New Year!